Israeli troops dragged sobbing Jewish settlers out of homes, synagogues and even a nursery school Wednesday in a massive evacuation, fulfilling Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's promise to end Israel's 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip.
Soldiers carried away worshippers still wrapped in their white prayer shawls. Men ripped their shirts in a Jewish mourning ritual. Women in a synagogue pressed their faces against the curtain covering the Torah scroll. Others kicked and screamed as they were loaded onto buses, as the smell of burning garbage rose in the air, reports CBC News.
A West Bank settler woman opposed to the pullout set herself on fire at a checkpoint outside the Gaza Strip, suffering burns to 60 percent of her body. Ultranationalist Israelis see the West Bank and Gaza as land bequeathed to the Jews by God.
"I don't want to. I don't want to," one woman wept as four female soldiers, each grabbing a limb, carried her out of her home in Neve Dekalim, the largest Gaza enclave.
In one synagogue, radical youths who had slipped into the main settlement bloc sang the haunting melody some Jews sang on their way to Nazi gas chambers.
But elsewhere there were increasing signs of settlers resigning themselves to evacuation as they tearfully hugged soldiers before filing quietly onto buses taking them to Israel.
The operation, the culmination of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for the first removal of settlements from land Palestinians want for a state, began after a midnight deadline for the remaining Gaza settlers to leave or face eviction, informs Reuters.
According to Bloomberg, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who helped build the settlements in Gaza and the West Bank that he is now dismantling, told reporters in Jerusalem that his "heart was torn" by the television images of the evacuation. "This was the right thing to do, despite all the sorrow it is causing," he said. "I'm convinced this will strengthen Israel."